I have another volunteer in my little patch of green – this time it is a strange little gourd. One time I had Malabar spinach with its rose tinted berries and leaves show up in a corner. No amount of uprooting could remove it – then I discovered I could use it in a Bengali paanch-phoran stir fry in a medley of other vegetables (beans, pumpkin, potatoes…) – yummy.
First I spotted the characteristic yellow flowers that are common to many a gourd/melon. They were small, about a centimeter across, and I wondered what kind it may be. A few days later I spotted a few with bulbous bottoms, the female flowers, and waited in anticipation. They developed into tiny melons that I had never seen before.
But were these edible, I wondered. When in doubt ask Shakuntala. Shakuntala is my young 30-something kitchen help who migrated to the city upon marriage. Originally from Rajasthan, her family sold their farmland and moved to a village near Agra where her father worked odd jobs to make a better living. She tells me farmers are today better off than they were 30 years ago, and it is now possible to make a living off the land. Yet for small farmers in India it is far from well. But I digress…
She identified the gourd as edible (yipee!), and informed me that it kind of volunteers all over the bajra (pearl millet) and jowar (sorghum) fields. You will find the seeds ‘adulterating’ some of these grains. It is the real earth food (I will stick to the rules and not send a second entry, Meeta :D ) : growing wild, and becoming a protein rich vegetable (look at the amount of those seeds!) for people living in the harsh arid areas of Western India, where it is hard to grow conventional vegetables.
Bitter tasting to start out, the fruit sweetens (faintly sour with a melon-y taste :D ) as it ripens. Right off the vine it a great nibble for rural kids. It may be pickled or cooked conventionally into an everyday- subzi. It is also sun-dried for later use in stir fries, or ground into a powder to flavour chutneys and veggies.
The dove visits everyday to try her luck…it was her lucky day today! Shakuntala says that one plant can bear upto 50 fruit at a time! We’ll see about that – right now I have five.
Can you name this gourd/melon? I would like to know other names…
I was going to hold the answer back for just a few hours but a dear friend of mine is starting to roll her eyes…so here’s the answer: the people of UP and Rajasthan know it as sane or kachri (kuchri). And, on a whim, just before posting I decided to look it up…it’s an amazing world out there. Kachri: Cucumis pubescens